The Mars Express spacecraft finally got an upgrade for Windows 98

Engineers at the European Space Agency (ESA) are preparing to upgrade Windows 98 on a Mars orbiter. The Mars Express spacecraft has been in operation for over 19 years, and the Mars Advanced Radar for Subsurface Instrumentation and Ion Sounding (MARSIS) instrument on board uses software built with Windows 98. Fortunately for humanity and for the Red Planet, ESA isn’t upgrading its systems to Windows ME.

The MARSIS instrument on ESA’s Mars Express was key to discovering A huge underground aquifer of liquid groundwater on the Red Planet in 2018. This major new upgrade to the software “will allow it to see beneath the surface of Mars and its moon Phobos in more detail than ever before,” According to the European Space Agency. The agency originally launched Mars Express into space in 2003 as its first mission to the Red Planet, and has spent nearly two decades exploring the planet’s surface.

MARSIS uses low-frequency radio waves that bounce off the surface of Mars to search for water and study the red planet’s atmosphere. The device’s 130-foot antenna is capable of searching three miles below the surface of Mars, and software upgrades will enhance onboard signal reception and data processing to improve the quality of data being sent back to Earth.

The south pole of Mars, as seen from the Mars Express.
Photo: ESA/DLR/FU Berlin, CC BY-SA 3.0 IGO

“We faced a number of challenges to improve the performance of MARSIS,” explains Carlo Nina, a software engineer at Enginium who is helping ESA with the upgrade. “Not least because MARSIS was originally built over 20 years ago, using a development environment based on Microsoft Windows 98!”

The European Space Agency (ESA) and operators at the National Institute of Astrophysics (INAF) have relied on technology to store lots of high-resolution data on the MARSIS instrument, but it fills up internal memory quickly. “By ignoring the data we don’t need, the new software allows us to run MARSIS for five times the time and explore a much larger area with each pass,” says Andrea Cicchetti, MARSIS Operations Director at INAF. The new program will help us study these regions more quickly and extensively at high resolution and confirm whether they are home to new sources of water on Mars. It’s really like having a brand new instrument on board the Mars Express nearly 20 years after it was launched.”

The ESA has not detailed the exact software that MARSIS is being upgraded to, but it is unlikely that the team upgraded its CPU and enabled TPM 2.0 in the BIOS to install Windows 11. right?

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